Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 457–472 | Cite as

Butterfly response to floral resources during early establishment at a heterogeneous prairie biomass production site in Iowa, USA

  • Mark C. Myers
  • Benjamin J. Hoksch
  • James T. Mason


In the Midwestern USA, current biofuel production systems rely on high input monoculture crops that do little to support native biodiversity. The University of Northern Iowa’s Tallgrass Prairie Center is investigating the feasibility of cultivating and harvesting diverse mixes of native prairie vegetation for use as a sustainable biofuel in a manner that also conserves biodiversity and protects soil and water resources. In 2009, we established 48 research plots on three soil types at an Iowa site with a uniform history of row crop production. We seeded each plot with one of four treatments of native prairie vegetation: (1) switchgrass monoculture, (2) warm-season grass mix (5 grass species), (3) biomass mix (16 species of grasses, legumes, and forbs), or (4) prairie mix (32 species of grasses, legumes, forbs, and sedges). In 2010, we measured vegetation characteristics and studied butterfly use of the plots to investigate the hypothesis that more diverse plant communities would support a greater abundance and diversity of butterflies. Habitat characteristics varied significantly among the plots by treatment and soil type, and butterflies responded rapidly to variation in floral abundance and richness. Averaged over the entire growing season, butterflies were six times more abundant and twice as species rich in the biomass and prairie mix plots compared to the warm-season grass and switchgrass plots. Our results suggest that implementation of biomass production using diverse mixes of native prairie vegetation on marginal lands could have positive effects on the maintenance of butterfly populations in agricultural landscapes.


Bioenergy Community ecology Grassland restoration Lepidoptera Species richness 



Funding for this project was provided by the Iowa Power Fund and the Graduate College and Department of Biology of the University of Northern Iowa. Our work would not have been possible without the support of Daryl Smith and the entire staff of the University of Northern Iowa’s Tallgrass Prairie Center. Specifically, Dave Williams and Chris Barber carried out the preparation, seeding, and on-going management of the site, and Dave Williams, Molly Schlumbohm, and a team of graduate students monitored plant establishment and provided data on species composition of the plots. We thank Vern Fish and Jim Wiemer of the Black Hawk County Conservation Board for supporting our work. We also thank Cassy Bohnet, Michelle Fuhrer Hurt, Andrew Montgomery, Drew Miller, and Willie Timm for assistance with logistics, fieldwork, data processing, and literature review.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark C. Myers
    • 1
  • Benjamin J. Hoksch
    • 1
  • James T. Mason
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of Northern IowaCedar FallsUSA
  2. 2.Tallgrass Prairie CenterUniversity of Northern IowaCedar FallsUSA

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